After a whirlwind day with a small producer, I believed we should always distinction that with one of many greatest producers within the Cognac enterprise. Ultimately depend Remy Martin was the #2 producer of Cognac, battling out for that spot with Martell and Courvousier, who’re all neck and neck and have a tendency handy the salutatorian place to at least one one other every year. Greater than all three of them put collectively nevertheless is Hennessey, an enormous whose footprint is seen in every single place on this area, together with a dominating edifice proper within the middle of city.
Remy Martin — a cornerstone of the Remy Cointreau spirits model — is as Outdated Faculty Cognac because it will get. Celebrating its three hundredth anniversary subsequent 12 months, the operation is busily renovating its properties and constructing new ones to organize for the inevitable festivities. We spent a day with international model ambassador Maxime Pulci, touring not simply its services but additionally the land itself, the place we started. The heaviest rain of our journey coincided with a trek into the vineyards of Grande Champagne. Many get confused by the looks of the time period Champagne in relation to Cognac, nevertheless it has nothing to do with Champagne wine-growing area, which is lots of of miles away from right here. “Champagne” means “chalk” in French, and once you’re within the Grande Champagne space, you’ll be able to perceive the title totally: The bottom is loaded with the stuff, to the purpose the place you’ll be able to attain down nearly wherever and decide up a chalky stone, crushing it between your arms, even in case you’re tromping round in a downpour sporting borrowed boots.
So Grande Champagne has heaps of chalk. The encompassing Petite Champagne area has considerably much less of it. Spreading out from there, like a bulls-eye, are areas referred to as Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Bois Ordinaires, every thought of to be of incrementally lowering high quality for rising Ugni Blanc, which includes some 97% of the grape harvest in Cognac. (The Borderies space is a particular case, which we’ll talk about within the subsequent dispatch.) Folle Blanche and Colombard typically seem in Cognac in tiny proportions. The opposite three authorised grapes — Montils, Sémillon, and Folignan — I’ve by no means heard of being truly utilized by anybody.
Remy’s eaux de vie come from Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne solely, with 50% minimal coming from Grande Champagne. Like most producers, Remy doesn’t have almost sufficient land holdings of its personal to distill its personal brandies, so it companions with lots of of small farmers to obtain most of its eaux de vie. Not less than 97% of Remy’s base spirits are bought fairly than distilled in-house, and I used to be stunned to find that — like everybody in Cognac — it doesn’t purchase grapes or wine however fairly eaux de vie, already distilled. It’s exhausting to think about, however 60 p.c of the 800 to 900 tiny farms right here have their very own pot nonetheless which is used to distill spirits based mostly on the home fashion of the purchaser. The blenders style samples earlier than agreeing to buy the lot; some will present a bonus for eaux de vie of outstanding high quality. It’s all a matter of economics and effectivity: It takes 12kg of grapes to make 9 liters of wine, which in flip makes 1 liter of eau de vie. That’s so much much less liquid to cart round, and so much much less work for the blender.
Enjoyable truth: The wine used to make Cognac could be very low in alcohol — about 7% abv — and have to be distilled rapidly after fermentation. That’s as a result of the wine isn’t sulfured earlier than distillation, as this might damage the completed brandy.
Like Ferrand, the Martin household got here out of winegrowing, not gross sales, which is what you’ll discover at a lot of the giant homes. At the moment Remy owns 280 hectares of vineyards and operates 8 small stills used to show its personal wines into eau de vie. It takes solely per week for the acidic Ugni Blanc to ferment right into a wine that may be distilled into eau de vie, and all of Remy’s wines are distilled on the lees — with the yeast and sediment remaining within the nonetheless. Remy says this provides an even bigger, rounder high quality to the completed spirit, and which you could see this high quality in motion within the “legs” of the brandy working down the aspect of the glass.
Considerably akin to the wine world, Cognac revolves across the age of the vines used to make its brandies. After about 7 years, an Ugni Blanc vine is able to be harvested for Cognac manufacturing. After about 45 years, it’s thought of spent and have to be replanted. Vines younger and outdated are scattered throughout Cognac, with no actual rhyme or cause besides that, clearly, sooner or later the vines ultimately needed to be torn out and planted anew. (The Cognac AOC dictates whole acreage that may be planted at anybody time; a number of many years again it needed to pay farmers to tear out vines as a way to lower provide and thus inflate the worth of Cognac.) Pulci additionally stresses that nice Cognacs are made out of a mixture of young and old vines, blended in the correct proportion: “Cognac has a relationship to time that’s difficult,” he says — not simply within the barrel, however within the soil, too. Even the barrels themselves are the merchandise of complicated time machinations, as a mixture of outdated barrels, used barrels as much as 50 years outdated, and frankensteined barrels that includes each outdated and new wooden are all ubiquitous. It’s as much as the blender to determine what eau de vie ought to go into what kind of barrel, and when it ought to transfer to a different one — or right into a monstrous mixing vat.
Not like Ferrand, Remy has only a handful of merchandise — and it notably doesn’t promote a VS expression. The traditional “black bottle” VSOP, which was designed in 1972 as a option to stand out on the shelf and to obscure any coloration variations within the Cognac from one bottle to the subsequent, is its entry stage expression. On the prime of the road is, in fact, Louis XIII, the $3500 ultra-premium Cognac that’s so valuable we have been solely given the possibility to odor it from the cask as a substitute of style. I used to be fortunate to style the recent and fruit-forward Tercet — which Pulci says he enjoys on the rocks — and got here house with a bottle of Remy Martin Membership, an effusive Cognac that’s in any other case bought solely in Asia. We tasted these treats over a tremendous personal lunch served in Remy’s new welcome middle; I’m unsure what it’s essential to do to get an invite to a meal like this, however in case you do land one, ensure you settle for it.
Remy has growing older warehouses throughout Cognac, together with one within the middle of Cognac the place we wandered the racks to ogle the Louis XIII casks. It’s so valuable and guarded that cell telephones needed to be disabled earlier than entry for worry of making a catastrophic spark. Pulci says the corporate has 150,000 barrels of Cognac growing older at any given time, however probably the most mind-boggling stat is that it loses the equal of 8000 bottles per day to “angel’s share” evaporation. Seems that, in these elements, the spirit of Cognac actually is throughout you, within the air.
If you happen to go:
Remy Martin Cognac, 20 Rue de la Société Vinicole, 16100 Cognac, France
Remy Martin has a variety of paid guests’ experiences. Study extra and ebook on its web site at remymartin.com.
Beforehand: Half 1: Maison Ferrand.
Up subsequent: Half 3: Camus.
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